When the NHL released their 2018-19 schedule, the contrast in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s October slate of games stood out. A season-opening five-game homestand immediately led into their longest road trip of the season. A pair of back-to-backs, combined with the fact the trip takes place over eight days across three time zones, increased the difficulty of this road swing.
Beginning the trip in Minnesota, the Lightning got off to a fast start against the Wild. Opening up a 3-1 first period lead, Tampa Bay appeared to be on their way to exorcising some demons in a building they’ve struggled in during recent seasons. However, Minnesota woke up and the Bolts couldn’t continue building upon that opening period. Over the final two periods, Minnesota controlled play and took a 4-3 lead in the third period. While Anton Stralman tied it 4-4 late in regulation, a Mikael Granlund overtime goal gave the Wild a 5-4 win, their seventh straight over the Lightning at the Xcel Energy Center dating back to 2011. This contest marked the first time that Andrei Vasilevskiy did not have his best game in net this season.
Unsatisfied with their effort on Saturday, the Lightning went into the United Center in Chicago and flipped the script. Tampa Bay controlled the opening half of the first period, taking a 1-0 lead. While Chicago turned the tables and controlled the latter portion of the opening period, a sprawling Louis Domingue save on Patrick Kane turned the tide in the Bolts’ favor.
In the second period, that tide morphed into a tidal wave for the Lightning, who peppered Chicago goalie Cam Ward with an NHL-record 33 shots in the second period alone. That’s an NHL record since the league began tracking shots by period in 1997-98. Tampa Bay also scored three goals in that period, cruising to a relatively easy 6-3 win. The biggest negative from this game was seeing the Lightning’s streak of successful penalty kills end at 29.
Tonight, the Bolts (5-1-1) continue their road trip in Colorado before concluding with another back-to-back against Vegas and Arizona, as we dive inside those contests on Crashing The Net
Wednesday, October 24th at Colorado, 9:30 pm
On paper, tonight’s match-up with the Colorado Avalanche has all the makings of a track meet. While the Lightning have depth up and down their forward group, the Avs are more top-heavy in that department. However, that top-heaviness has Colorado off to a 6-1-2 start, including a recent 3-0-1 road trip against Metropolitan Division teams. Their top line of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog has been unstoppable so far. Rantanen and MacKinnon each own nine-game point streaks to start the season, the longest in franchise history to begin a campaign. That broke the record of eight set by Joe Sakic and Anton Stastny, who each began 1988-89 with eight-game streaks.
Rantanen is tied with Auston Matthews for the NHL lead with 16 points, including a league-high 12 assists. MacKinnon is second in the NHL with 15 points, including eight goals, while Landeskog also has eight goals and 12 points. Nobody else on Colorado’s roster has more than six points. In addition to the top line, their goaltending duo of Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer has also been very stout.
They’ve had to be since the Avalanche’s underlying possession metrics aren’t great. At 5-on-5, they only control only 45.54% of all shot attempts (27th in the NHL), 48.51% of the shots on goal (19th), 48.25% of the scoring chances (20th), and 42.65% of the high-danger scoring chances (25th). Tampa Bay will need to stay out of the penalty box, as Colorado’s power play is tied for eighth place at 27.3%. Last season, the Lightning swept the season series from Colorado and are 6-4-0 in their last 10 against the Avs.
Friday, October 26th at Vegas, 6 pm
Two nights later, the Lightning head to the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip to take on the Vegas Golden Knights. Last season’s expansion team darlings were the talk of the hockey world in their inaugural season, making it to the Stanley Cup Final. However, the first five games of 2018-19 weren’t kind to the Knights, who began 1-4-0 while giving up 19 goals. On October 13th, they salvaged a road trip with a 1-0 win in Philadelphia. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury earned his 49th career shutout with 26 saves against the Flyers. Since then, they’ve returned home for a five-game homestand and recorded a 4-1 win over Buffalo and a 3-1 win against Anaheim. Entering Wednesday’s contest against Vancouver, they’ve allowed just two goals in that three-game winning streak. Against Anaheim, Fleury moved into 10th place on the NHL’s all-time goalie win list with 408.
That solid goaltending and defensive play has been needed as Vegas is 29th in the NHL at 2.13 goals per game. That stands in stark contrast to last season when they finished fifth, scoring 3.27 goals per game. Despite having trouble finishing, it hasn’t been for a lack of trying from the Golden Knights. When it comes to 5-on-5 play, Vegas ranks third in Corsi For (total shot attempt percentage) at 58.99%, fourth in total shots on goal percentage (57.3%), fourth in scoring chance percentage (57.1%), while also controlling 60% of the high-danger scoring chances, good for fourth in the league.
Unlike last year, the Knights have been more reliant on their top line than their forward depth, as Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith have led the way offensively. Vegas swept both meetings against the Lightning a season ago.
Saturday, October 27th at Arizona, 9 pm
If you thought the Golden Knights had some issues offensively, it’s nothing compared to the problems Arizona has had putting the puck in the net. Arizona has notched a league-low 15 goals in eight games, but much of that was due to being shut out in three of their first four games this season. Despite their offensive issues, they’ve been competitive during a 3-5-0 start. A season ago, they began 0-10-1, essentially ending their playoff hopes before Halloween.
Looking at their underlying numbers, a turnaround should be imminent. They’ve only allowed 18 goals, tied with the Lightning for second-fewest in the NHL. When you take a deeper analytical dive at 5-on-5 play, the Coyotes sit fourth in the league in Corsi for percentage (54.75%) while controlling 55.53% of the total shots on goal, tied for fourth-best in the league.
In addition, Arizona controls 54.72% of all scoring chances at 5-on-5, good for sixth-best in the NHL. When it comes to 5-on-5 high-danger opportunities, the Coyotes are 14th, generating 51.25% of such opportunities. Buoyed by some solid goaltending from Antti Raanta, this team just needs to finish their chances. Entering tonight’s action, they’re averaging 35 shots a game, ranking fourth in the league.
In the last five seasons, the Lightning have had some problems with Arizona, going 5-4-1 against the Coyotes, including a 1-2-1 mark over the last two years. A year ago, these teams split their two meetings. Offensively, they’re led by Clayton Keller’s three goals and five points, as well as Christian Fischer, who tallied his first career hat trick in Tuesday’s 4-1 victory over Columbus. That win over the Blue Jackets capped off a four-game road trip with a 2-2-0 record going into Thursday’s game against Vancouver, a contest that starts their four-game homestand.
All statistics courtesy of either NHL.com or Natural Stat Trick.
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